Written By TCU Member and 12 year Amtrak Employee at the Riverside Call Center, Sean McGrath. Published in the Press Enterprise – Click Here to visit the website.
When I suffered a spinal cord injury in 1994, I was told by medical professionals that I would never work again. I collected Social Security and other government benefits and thought that was that.
But after spending several years in a wheelchair with no real direction for my life, I knew that I wanted—and deserved—more. So in 2007, I applied for and earned a good, union job at Amtrak’s call center in Riverside. Through dedication and hard work, and the living wages and benefits secured in my union’s contract with Amtrak, I was able to live without all government assistance just three years later.
My job with Amtrak’s Riverside Call Center and my membership with the Transportation Communications Union have given me a feeling that I’m part of something bigger than just myself. Together, my 500 colleagues and I field calls and help customers who ride on one of the most efficient, effective passenger rail systems in the world. Even on a shoe-string budget, Amtrak regularly breaks its own ridership records and enjoys overwhelming public support. The customer service my team provides is one of the reasons why.
The Riverside call center has been part of this community for twenty-five years. Because of the good jobs it provides, my coworkers have been able to raise families here, send their kids to college, save for retirement, and give back to the community where they’ve built their lives.
Now, everything my co-workers and I have worked for is in jeopardy. On November 14, Amtrak announced it would close the Riverside call center; all employees are to be terminated on January 18, 2019. My colleagues and I, many of whom have lived in Riverside our entire lives, have just a handful of weeks to make serious decisions that will impact our lives and the lives of our family members.
Amtrak claims it is making this decision because call volumes are low. But their actions tell another story – one in which Amtrak is trying to break our union and outsource our jobs to low-wage workers.
If call volumes are low and cuts are necessary, why has Amtrak offered my colleagues and I call center jobs all the way across the country in Philadelphia? Could it be that the company expects many of us will choose not to uproot our lives? Many of us are homeowners. Many of us have children in school. Others care for our sick and elderly relatives. Moving is not an easy decision. (I, for one, am especially worried about navigating a snowy and cold climate for the first time in a wheelchair).
Meanwhile, Amtrak is shifting its resources to a call center in Florida, run by a third-party company, Teleperformance. Workers employed by Teleperformance earn half what we do at Riverside and their compensation includes no benefits. Amtrak admits they “retained a Business Process Outsourcer in Florida to meet demands for high service and to lower costs.” What Amtrak hasn’t discussed are how some of my colleagues were asked to train workers at the Florida facility — workers who will be handling the calls Amtrak claims don’t need to be handled — all the while being told this wouldn’t affect their own jobs at Amtrak.
What makes Amtrak’s decision to close the Riverside call center and lay off its 500 employees so appalling isn’t Amtrak’s lack of honesty with us. It isn’t that even as hundreds of my coworkers and I face uncertain futures days before the holidays, we still worry about the customers we serve and quality of service they’ll receive in the future. It isn’t that relocation compensation hasn’t been discussed, or that California pumps an annual $90 million into state-supported routes. It’s all of these things and more.
As call-center employees who provide service to Amtrak’s growing customer base, we have contributed to its overwhelming success for decades. As residents of California, our tax dollars help keep this system functioning and operational. We’ve given our all to Amtrak. Isn’t it time Amtrak give us a little respect, dignity, and transparency in return?
Sean McGrath is a 12-year employee of Amtrak’s Riverside call center and proud member of the Transportation Communications Union.